After a few years of living in Spain, both Heidi and I should be further along with our Spanish. She’s actually much better than me, and I won’t even discuss how well the kids do. It’s both frustrating and a bit humbling to have them correct me when I’m saying things wrong. So, I have taken a trip to Ronda, for a week of Spanish immersion. I know we already live in Spain, but this is different and we’re partnering with Entrelenguas to help me improve my Spanish.
I will admit that I’m a bit conflicted in how I should write this post. My first inclination was to do a day-to-day, “diary” of what I did, but that’s long read, and I wanted to highlight some of the really useful learning things I did while attending the Escuela Entrelenguas.
Step 1 of Spanish Immersion – A Homestay
The biggest, and new (for me) learning environment that I was exposed to was living with a Spanish host family for the week I stayed in Ronda. This means their home is my home and when I am not in school or doing organized activities, I am just part of the family. I eat, sleep, and hang out in their home.
I was supremely fortunate to stay with a very nice lady, Encarna, and her daughter, Carmen. They didn’t speak a word of English, and that forced me to step well out of my comfort zone and communicate only in Spanish. Below you can see my private room for the week.
Was it difficult? At times, yes. It was difficult, and frustrating, but luckily both Encarna and Carmen were very patient. There were many times, when I would say something incorrectly, and they would correct me. We talked about a wide range of topics. We watched TV together, and discussed American 80s TV shows (dubbed in Spanish), politics, history, holidays (both Spanish and American). These are exactly the type of discussions I like to have, but I don’t have the opportunity to do so on a day-to-day basis.
Sidenote on dubbed 80s TV: During one of my lunches with Encarna, she turned on the TV, and was flicking through the channels, and she asked me if I was OK with watching Equipo A. Wait…I knew those words, but it didn’t make sense to me immediately, and then on came…the A-Team! Too funny, and it was dubbed into Spanish. It’s so campy, but I can generally follow along, even if I’m not understanding everything. I told Encarna that the only thing I’m understanding is the bang bang of the guns.
The hilarious part was when Mr. T. had some dialog, and the person they used was trying to imitate Mr. T’s delivery. I started laughing hysterically, and Encarna didn’t understand what was so funny. She had never heard his real voice, so I tried explaining to her what his real voice sounds like, so I did my best impression. She got a kick out of that.
Going beyond the “Hey, how are you? I’m fine, and you?” discussion was extremely helpful, not only from a language learning standpoint, but also a cultural appreciation standpoint. If you have the opportunity to experience this type of learning environment, I highly recommend you seize it, as it provides a unique perspective that book learning cannot.
Step 2 of Spanish Immersion – The Food
I was worried about the food aspect of the homestay. Not being a fan of Spain’s cuisine, I figured this might be a combo diet/language learning experience for me, but Encarna provided excellent food. She was like my grandmother making sure I was well-fed. She made me things that I would not normally eat, but I expanded my palette on this trip. I joked with her that if she ever meets my mother, she needs to tell her all of the new food I ate. A huge hug goes out to Encarna and Carmen!
Step 3 of Spanish Immersion – Local Activities
The folks at Entrelenguas did a great job of putting together local activities that put the learner into real conversational activities. Let me cover a couple of my favorites:
Intercambio (language exchange)
This was an evening event where the Students were given cards with colors (in Spanish) written on them (my color was azul – blue). The Spanish speakers were given cards with a fruit or vegetable on them. Then it was like a “match the color to the fruit” type of game. We were then given 5 minutes to talk about a particular subject. Once the bell rang, those holding fruit/vegetable cards would exchange cards with each other, and then the process would repeat, with a new topic. Kind of like speed-dating I suppose.
That evening, I spoke with approximately 10 different people, and discussed a number of things from where I was born, my job, my family, and more. It was fast-paced, and really forced me to think quickly about content. My biggest fear in speaking Spanish is that I sound like a (stupid) 5 year-old. In this type of environment, getting the gist of the conversation forced me to talk without stressing about grammar or sentence structure. Just speak! That was a big step for me.
Let me state that I have a new favorite town, and it’s Ronda. Alex took us on a fantastic tour of the town, showing us stuff that’s not in the tourist’s books. We felt like we were let in on all of the local secrets. He talked to us about key points in Ronda history, architecture, and art. All of this was in Spanish, and I was amazed that he was able to convey so much information. If there was something that I didn’t understand, he was able to describe it in English, and that greatly helped.
My favorite parts of the local tour of Ronda:
- The San Francisco barrio. This is the neighborhood that I was staying in. It lies outside of the Almocabar door, and has some interesting history.
- The Arabic Baths and Bridge. The technology used by the Arabs in their construction of the baths and bridge are amazing. They are well-preserved, and if you’re in Ronda, I would rate them as a Must See.
- El Minarete de San Sebastian (Old Mosque). If you’re a fan of historical architecture, this is something you don’t want to miss.
- El Puente Nuevo (New Bridge). This is a big tourist draw, and for a reason. The views from both sides of the bridge are amazing. In the past, the Moors harnessed the power of the Guadalevín River and milled grain to make flour.
- Click here to read a little more about Ronda, Spain.
I like wine, so seeing some local vineyards is always a plus in my book. Our tour was roughly a 20-minute walk from the school down to one of the many eco-friendly vineyards in the valley below Ronda’s El Puente Nuevo. Fantastic views galore!
Once we got to the vineyard, Alex walked us through some rows of grapes, and informed us of the area, the grapes used, and the growing methods used in Ronda. The grapes on the vines looked a little shriveled, but Alex encouraged us to find some good ones, and taste them.
This particular variety of grape is called Garnacha, or Grenache, and they were fantastic! As Alex was talking, I’ll admit that I may have been to focused on doing my own little mini-harvest and eating several of the grapes. So tasty!
After the discussion about the grapes, it was time for a picnic. On display were local cheeses (goat and sheep/goat), Spanish ham, bread, fruit, and wine! Between Javier and Alex, they made us a feast. There was this combo fruit/veggie salad that was so good, that I helped myself to seconds. Combine that with some fresh olive oil, and bread, and I was in heaven. <I’ll be right back. Writing about all of this food is making me hungry!>
This was one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on. I’ll get to why in a sec. This was a tour of the valley below Ronda, with a big loop going back into Ronda. I would say it was probably 5-6 kilometers, and while I was huffing and puffing at the end, it was definitely worth it.
My second favorite thing on this tour was that we were all talking in Spanish. I wasn’t stressed about understanding or talking, I was just soaking in all of the information. Javier provided a wealth of information on the area. I’ve got to hand it to the Entrelenguas folks. They know their town and its history.
And my favorite part?
The food! Yes…the food.
On this hiking tour, we were eating as we were going. There were walnut trees, and we picked them right there, cracked them open and ate them. We also found some fig trees, and I ate some of the sweetest figs I’ve ever had. We picked caqui, which is Spanish for persimmon, and we even found a pomegranate tree where I dutifully grabbed a medium-sized specimen. Continuing on, we came across some blackberry bushes. I fell behind the group a bit as I was feasting like a bear out of hibernation.
So yummy, and all the while, I’m surrounded by gorgeous scenery. Javier did a great job of not only explaining the valley, but also the historical areas of the town we passed through on our way back to the school.
I need to stress that these activities were well put together, and really helped the learning process. It was that type of learning, where you’re learning without really thinking about learning.
Step 4 of Spanish Immersion – The Classroom
No education is complete without some good ole classroom instruction. Our class had a small number of students, and all of us were relatively close in our level of understanding. The classes were approximately 3 hours, which I think is just right because after about 3 hours, my brain is fried.
Our instructor, Maria was very good at explaining concepts, and pushed us with in-class discussion, written activities, and even <choke> homework. I thought I was done with homework, but Maria brought back that infamous institution. I’m giving her a bit of grief here, but in reality, it wasn’t that much, or that hard. A guy has to complain about something…
Step 5 of Spanish Immersion – The Learning Environment
Entrelenguas provides a comfortable learning environment. Their facilities have a great vibe. There’s a large classroom, a smaller one, and then a bunch of open areas/nooks. It’s really a cool place to just hang out. There’s access to cold and hot drinks, and it’s just conducive to learning. All of the staff are very friendly and helpful, making sure that everything is going OK. They’re also sticklers about speaking in Spanish, which is good, because that’s why I was there!
Ronda is a perfect place for learning through Spanish immersion. Ronda is a great mix of city, town, and country-side. There is plenty of nature around, a bunch of history, and a lot of character. Ronda is well placed geographically. It’s an excellent place in which to be based. Branching out, and doing day trips to Málaga, Córdoba, Seville, or Granada is entirely feasible. I’m looking forward to visiting Ronda again and showing off my new Knowledge, in Spanish to the family.
Let’s Wrap Up My Spanish Immersion
Before I finish up, I do want to give a big shout out to Mar. She was instrumental in getting the planning and organization done for this trip. She kicked off this great experience with a lot of good information on Andalusia, and Ronda in particular, from bus/train schedules, cultural activities, etc. She was also very diligent in making sure everyone’s needs were being met, and introducing everyone.
Javier, Alex, and Mar definitely have a winning formula for not only learning Spanish, but the full Spanish Immersion into the local culture, food and surroundings. They provide a great mix of activities, sustainable tourism, and classroom learning for all levels. And for me, the real kicker was the homestay. They can arrange a homestay for you, and I highly recommend it.
So how did I do? I did pretty good. While I’m not fluent, my comprehension rate definitely improved, and I feel more confident speaking. Many thanks to everyone at Entrelenguas for an amazing experience. My recommendation is to stay longer than just one week, if you can. ¡Muchas gracias!
Disclosure: Entrelenguas partnered with us on this learning experience. All opinions are our own.